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Judges Play "Hallelujah" Card for Lee DeWyze on 'American Idol'

May 19, 2010 8:56 AM ET

A year ago, Leonard Cohen asked for a brief halt to new covers of "Hallelujah." But the song's myth has only grown over the past 12 months, and on American Idol, the lilting track has conferred Immediate Artistic Credibility: Jason Castro rode it to his biggest Idol success in 2008, and his performance helped the Jeff Buckley version of the song leap to nearly the top of the iTunes chart. So it was with a heavy, heavy hand that outgoing Idol judge Simon Cowell selected the song for his favorite singer, Lee DeWyze, on the penultimate week of Season Nine. He broke the news to the 24-year-old paint salesman in a chipper text that read, "Hi Lee, it's Simon! I have selected Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen/Jeff Buckley as your 'Judge's Choice' song for next week. Good luck!" It might as well have said, "Hi Lee, it's your BFF, Simon! ZOMG, u r totally going to win tomorrow night!! Hallelujah *wink!* it's in the bag xo S." DeWyze did a fine job with the track, but overall, he over-sang both of his performances last night, perhaps made overconfident by the judges shoving the win down his throat (and ours) for the past few weeks. Here's how the night really broke down:

One to Watch:

• Crystal Bowersox seemed a little swallowed by the arrangement of her first song, Melissa Etheridge's "Come to My Window," but despite some iffy phrasing and superfluous harmonica, she rose above. Her second tune, Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" as picked by Ellen DeGeneres, was the night's standout. It was powerful, creatively sung and in the pocket. The judges didn't seem to disagree in the moment, and Randy Jackson proclaimed her "in it to win it."

Meh:

• Lee DeWyze can smell his impending victory, which must have a better bouquet than Behr semi-gloss. He began his first interview with Ryan Seacrest by speaking directly into the camera, rather than at the host. His first pick was a demographic knockout — "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd (all-American, familiar, rousing) — but it came across as blustery and out of tune. The judges, however, heard something different. Jackson said he sounded amazing and added, "Somebody here feels like they could win this!" DioGuardi proclaimed, "Round one goes to Lee." By the time he hit "Hallelujah" (with gospel choir) the judges were nearly speaking in tongues. "The biggest moment at biggest time," "stunning," "you are the heart of the show this season," and the most perplexing of all, Kara's statement that the song proved, "You are a fantastic singer, a great person." A great person? She got that from the song? That certainly smells suspicious.

Thanks for the Memories:

• Casey James can see where this Season Nine finale is headed pretty clearly — the first song he picked was even called "OK, It's Alright With Me" (by Eric Hutchinson). If the judges could read DeWyze's "greatness" as a human in his "Hallelujah," they could definitely see the "I’m a cool guy, life will go on once this ridiculous show is over" message in James' selection. The judges permitted him a moment to smolder on John Mayer's "Daughters" for round two, but Cowell couldn't let him escape without mentioning the song's "quite limp guitar solo."

Tonight: Justin Bieber performs as Idol names the final two.

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Song Stories

“Santa Monica”

Everclear | 1996

After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

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